`We Were A Nomadic People'

`W were misnamed Indians by Columbus,'' say Leonard Little Finger, ``because he was looking for India. Thank God he wasn't looking for Turkey.'' It's a touch of resilient humor rising out of a late afternoon conversation near a gulch where Mr. Little Finger's great-grandfather hid after escaping from Wounded Knee on Dec. 29, 1890. There are few residents of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation who cannot claim a family link to the massacre, which occurred about 20 miles from here. It was the last battle in the tragic history of Indian wars in the United States.

Despite two gunshot wounds in the leg, Little Finger's great-grandfather hid in the gulch to save himself and his family from US Cavalry search parties.

Resilience, pride, and plenty of tradition are factors that have kept the Oglala Sioux tribe from being defeated by the staggering odds against them: an unemployment rate of 73 percent on the reservation, an infant-mortality rate twice the national average, and a per capita income of $2,637, the lowest in the US. Peter Catches, a Sioux medicine man, says, ``We believe what God gave is a gift, never to be taken away by man-made laws. But we were a nomadic people, not used to being cooped up. Only when we were walked upon did we try to protect what we had.''

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